One Great Story

The Penn State College of Communications sends a class of Journalism students abroad each year to experience what it's like to be an international reporter.

In late 2014, protestors flooded the streets of Hong Kong in opposition to proposed reforms to the region’s electoral system. Known as the Umbrella Revolution, the movement made international headlines. 

Penn State College of Communications’ Foster Professor of Writing and Editing Tony Barbieri, course leader of an international reporting class that takes an annual trip abroad, says this was one of the reasons he chose Hong Kong as their spring 2015 destination. 

A boy does a skateboard trick in a Hong Kong park.

Hong Kong Skateboarder

Journalism student Akash Ghai, who focuses on photojournalism, put together a photo essay to represent his experience of Hong Kong. In this photo, a boy does a trick on his skateboard in the Morrison Hill skate park. 

IMAGE: Akash Ghai

Also, he says, he considers what area of the world might be an important player internationally when his Journalism students reach their mid-career. 

In this way, students get hands-on experience in international reporting but also learn about a culture and environment that will be relevant to them as their careers progress.

“Students have to know before we go to a place a little bit about the history, the currency, the time difference. All that is crammed into half a semester,” says Barbieri. 

As they research the region, they also begin to form a story idea and make contacts for interviews. When they land in their destination, the students are off and running to pursue their one great story—one that they could only tell in Hong Kong. 

Though the students certainly have some time for touring and relaxation, the trip is hard work—and it’s meant to be. 

“When they get there, they’ve got to set everything up and execute the story themselves,” Barbieri says. “They find out pretty quickly they’ve got to do this on their own.” 

Despite the language barriers and cultural differences, however, many of the challenges students face are the same kinds of journalistic issues they would face at home. 

“Just knowing I’ve been able to do something like this is going to give me confidence when I go to my first job.”—Marielena Balouris

“There’s an extra layer of difficulty—a language barrier, a way of life barrier, like how to call a cab,” says student Marielena Balouris. “But it’s still the same fundamentals, working through those obstacles to tell your story.”

Amy Simpson, another student in the class, adds, “I’m looking forward to seeing how I improve even when I go back because of this experience.”

Simpson and her fellow students know that, whether they go on to take international positions in journalism or not, they’ll take the skills and lessons they learned in Hong Kong with them into their future careers. 

“I’m looking forward to seeing how I improve even when I go back because of this experience.”—Amy Simpson

And when the students return, many of them have a new view: of their craft, and of themselves.

“Just knowing I’ve been able to do something like this is going to give me confidence when I go to my first job,” says Balouris. “Like, ‘I can handle this story. I did a story in Hong Kong.’” 

Barbieri says that he sees his students grow before his eyes on this trip, both in their journalism skills and in their confidence. 

“I used to do this for a living. I tell them, ‘What you’re doing is not easy. So when you’ve done it, it’s something to be proud of.’”—Tony Barbieri

Featured photo courtesy of Lucie Couillard.

About the Penn State College of Communications

The Penn State College of Communications is the largest accredited program of its kind in the nation and offers four departments—Advertising/Public Relations, Film-Video and Media Studies, Journalism, and Telecommunications—with five majors. Along with nine research centers and special programs within the college, students benefit from on-campus visits from academics and professionals at the top of their fields.